In the wake of the media’s shameful conduct leading up to the 2016 elections, the New York Times admitted that it and other newsrooms had, by publishing so many stories using Russian-hacked material, “becom[e] a de facto instrument of Russian intelligence.” If you were totally naive and hadn’t paid attention to how things have gone since 2016, you might think that recognition would mean things were going to change in 2020. You’d be wrong—and the cynics would be right.
CNN Business asked major news organizations how they planned to handle hacked material in 2020. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press all cited their “standards” in explaining that yes, they would act as de facto agents of Russian intelligence.
”The decision to publish any information, including hacked documents, is made primarily on the basis of whether it is newsworthy and in the public interest, while also taking privacy concerns into consideration,” said a Times spokesperson. “When we publish, we aim to give readers as much context as possible about the information and the motivation for its release.” Note that this claim comes shortly after the newspaper made heavy use of hacked emails in an unflattering profile of Center for American Progress head Neera Tanden, with no more context than that the emails were “stolen and released by WikiLeaks.”
Minus the recent, context-free use of hacked emails, that’s the story from other major publications: standards, blah blah blah, context. BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith had one of the better answers, with his publication’s standards guide now calling on reporters to “treat the intention of the hacker as a major part of the story” and “maintain a high bar for news value and context of potentially embarrassing personal information that is being weaponized.”
Unfortunately, too many major publications can’t be counted on to maintain that kind of standard, and it endangers our democracy.